2 Kings 17:41—How could the nations fear the true God and serve false gods?

Problem: This text says plainly that “these nations feared the Lord” (cf. v. 32). Yet this same passage claims that they “served their own gods” (v. 33). Isn’t this a flat contradiction?

Solution: Not all verbal contradictions are actual contradictions (see comments on Ps. 53:5). This is a good example of using the same word (“fear”) in different senses (see also comments on 1 John 4:18). The contrasting senses in which they feared God is revealed in verse 41: “So these nations feared the Lord, yet served their carved images.” In other words, they feared God in general, but not on this particular matter. They did not cease being monotheists, but they were idolatrous ones.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.